Saturday, February 24, 2018

Culinary Symposium 2018!

UPDATE:  I mistakenly called foods that were served at two different meals, "leftovers."  They were fixed fresh for each meal!  No disrespect was intended as I loved the chance to try dishes I had missed before and I had the chance to sample the ones I loved again.  Thank you, cooks!


Oh boy!  I got to attend the tenth annual West Coast Culinary Symposium, put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  For details on their website, click here.  This year it was in Northern California, just north of San Francisco.  This is my third symposium and this one was just as lovely as the other two.

The Friday night dinner was potluck, so I cannot name all the good foods I ate, but I will give it a try.

I'll start with the purple cabbage salad, then go clockwise around to a chicken and pomegranate juice dish, then a Transylvanian dish with pork and a "Garlic Harvest Sauce."  After that was a sort of baked dumpling, then an onion salad, and a garbanzo bean salad.

To celebrate the Year of the Dog, someone brought an Asian pork dish with rice and pickled vegetables.  The tang of the vegetables perfectly complemented the fatty pork.

People were arriving and putting out new food all throughout the evening.  I didn't take pictures of everything I tried.  Some foods were purchased at stores and some were made at home.  It was all tasty.  I enjoyed meeting new people and reconnecting with ones I had met at the previous symposia.

One activity I participated in was a garum/liquamen tasting session.  This is the Roman Empire era condiment that was very popular.  I have posted several times about how I use it (do a site search on "Roman Empire").  Several of us brought what we use:  We had two that were made from salted fish parts, the way the Romans made it.  There were two store-bought fish sauces.  I brought my liquamen that was made from reduced grape juice and store-bought light-colored fish sauce.

The ones that others brought were saltier than mine, but I am not surprised because I am not someone who likes salty foods or salts her foods often and I could adjust the saltiness when I mixed the liquids.  The home made garums were good and I was convinced by the makers that I could make mine at home, too, without dealing with stinky, rotting fish in my house.  The store-bought one that everyone remarked on was labeled "Anchovy Juice" and it was excellent.  Still a bit salty for me but it had a rich, chicken-brothlike flavor that really danced on my taste buds.   It was pointed out that it was an expensive item as compared to regular fish sauces but could really be worth it as a flavor boost.

Saturday morning breakfast was some leftovers from the potluck (Hooray!  I got to taste some dishes I had missed before!) and some new items to try.

Starting near the top and going clockwise, flatbread with thickened yogurt, rice with chopped pistachios and raisins, an apricot preserved in syrup, someone's homemade cheese, and dried apricots.

A warm, tiny bagel; a garbanzo bean dish like a casserole; another preserved apricot.

Wheat berries with milk and honey, and an eggplant jam.  All quite good!

My first class was on a talk about the Transylvanian cookbook.  It was written in Hungarian and its translation was crowd-funded.  For fun, the instructor had Google translate the recipes list and got some very humorous results.  Note:  He says Google has improved since then and he doesn't get quite the silly translations any more.

He did show us that the recipes are not silly and gave us a cheese dish, called "túró cake" to try.  Click here for the recipe.  Look around that blog to see how to make the cheese.

It was tasty; light and savory, with dill.

The second class talked about various cookbooks -- the instructor is both a librarian and an historian with an amazing collection of cookbooks -- and from that I got some interesting online sources:  Early English Books Online is fun to look through.  It has 60,000 volumes of more than just cookbooks. also has a lot of cookbooks, among other things.  Medieval Cookery has a list of recipes, books, and other sources.

Next up, lunch!

Starting at the top and going clockwise, meatballs (I think made out of lamb), another garbanzo bean casserole, something with eggplant that was savory and garlicky, chard, a cheese pie sitting on flatbread, and yet another garbanzo bean casserole with meat.

Top left:  pickled parsnips (I think); a hummus with cinnamon, nuts, and herbs; couscous; and a thing I thought was a bean of some sort but tasted more like cooked dough.  All good!

During lunch, the keynote speaker gave her presentation on "The Food Preparation in the Royal Kitchens of Early Modern Spain."  It was good to see the techniques, the equipment, and the recipes.  I am now charged up to try to roast butter on a spit!

The next class was on Andalusian flatbreads from the 10th century.  (See Cariadoc's Miscellany) One recipe that was fun to watch cooking and to eat was like a stacked pancake, except all the layers were made together!  You make a sticky sourdough batter, put a layer on the hot pan and cook it a little while.  Then flip it.  While that side cooks, spread some batter on the first side.  Then flip, and spread more batter.  In other words, the whole stack cooks one side at a time, ending up with a thick stack of layers.  Then you rotate the stack on its side in the pan and make sure the edges are cooked.

To serve, punch holes into the entire stack and fill them with melted butter and honey.  Slice into wedges and serve.  The sourdough flavor really stood out and the butter and honey made it scrumptious.

Slicing to serve.  You can see the holes that were filled with butter and honey.

See the layers?
Another flatbread had the interesting technique of rolling it very thin (it had been kneaded a long time!), spreading on melted butter, then roll up like a jelly roll and twisting before using a rolling pin to get it flat again.  Once cooked, it had some flaky layers in it.  

Several individual breads, stacked together

The flaky layers!
The last class for the day was on sugar paste sculptures.  The instructor is an artist and had made a statue of a man leaning against a tree.  In the tree was a reservoir for wine, and a tube that exited from the man's side.  Once the wine was in the reservoir, you could pull out the arrow from the man's side and the wine would come out into your cup.  Very medieval!  We learned a lot about techniques for working with sugar paste.

Dinner, ah, dinner!  The recipes were taken from a 13th century Syrian cookbook that has recently been published in English as Scents and Flavors, edited and translated by Charles Perry.  In fact, all the recipes made by the cooks for our meals were from this book.  You can see the recipe list they used at the bottom of this post.

From the top, clockwise:  Some sort of chicken dish, date stuffed with an almond, chunky apple sauce, sweetened carrots, a fava bean dish, pickled cucumbers, and I-don't-know-what in the middle, but it was good.

From the top:  a different chicken dish, a turnip or parsnip dish, and a different carrot dish.  Again, all good!

The Culinary Symposium cooks did an excellent job redacting these recipes.  I hope I can do them at home some time.

After dinner, a couple showed us how they made a stag made of paper mache' that would "bleed" wine when pierced with a spear.  In medieval times, the stag would have been made of pastry dough.  It was truly impressive to see how they engineered it all.

Sunday morning started with breakfast, which is a good way to use up leftovers.

From the top, chard, date with almond, garbanzo bean casserole, tiny bagel, eggplant jam, and sweetened carrots.

Rice on the left, wheat berries on the right, both sprinkled with chopped pistachios and drizzled with honey.

My first class of the day was on kitchen gardens.  This was enlightening because I have a variety of culinary herbs in my garden but now I want more, and to make my garden more decorative!  I have ideas on how I could use certain hedges to provide branches for wattle fences, and more.  

The last class of the day was on lauzinaj, which is actually several types of sweets from the Middle East.  The "dry" lauzinaj are like nut brittles,  Both are made from almonds, sugar, and rose water.

This one is firm.

This one is easily broken.
The other type is a wrapped lauzinaj, which uses a super thin wrapper around a filling of chopped nuts (we had almonds and pistachios), sugar, and rose water.  It is then drizzled with untoasted sesame oil and a sugar syrup.

The challenge is making the thin wrappers.  You start with a kneaded dough, then put it in water and mash it.  This causes the wheat starch to come out, making the water look like milk.  After doing this for a while, all that is left of the dough is the gluten, but we want the starch.  

Some of the recipes used just water and starch.  Some added a beaten egg white.  Either way, you have a very thin batter that needs to be mixed regularly to keep the starch suspended.  Then you heat up your lightly greased pan, tilt it almost vertically, and pour the batter onto the pan.  Most batter goes into a bowl and what stays makes a paper-thin wrapper for the sweet.  We experimented with different levels of water and egg white, and managed to get wrappers so thin they were almost transparent.

Wheat starch in the jar.
Right after the batter was poured.

Cooking it to get rid of the white part

Rolled, on the left.  Filled and ready to roll on the right.
You can see the filling through the wrapper!  Yes, that thin!  In fact, with practice, some of the wrappers were like cellophane.  

This symposium was great fun, just like the other two I attended.  The people are nice and intriguing because their interests and expertise run far and wide through the culinary world.  I have described the classes I took but there were many others, which you can see on their web site.  I am not an SCA member but they have always welcomed me to these events.  If you have the opportunity to attend, I encourage you to do so. You will learn, eat, enjoy, and make friends.

Recipes for the meals, as taken from Scents and Flavors.  I recommend you buy the book!  (I don't profit from this recommendation.)  ISBN 978-1-4798-5628-2

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ups and Downs 2018

Happy January!

2018 begins my seventh year of food blogging, which astonishes me more than you can imagine.  My first year I didn't do anything in particular to advertise my writings just because I wasn't sure I could do it regularly or well.  After that first year I had 1000 page views and enough posts to convince me to keep going.

As of today I have over 50,000 page views.  I am honored and grateful that people find my blog worth looking at.  Truly a humbling experience.

Last year I missed posting in my usual habit due to a very busy time in my life. 

This year I realize that I am going to have to cut way back on the number of posts I make, due to health and family issues.  I am not willing to give it up completely so I will just have to see what I can accomplish.

I want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone who has read my blog.  There is a lot to see on the Information Highway and I am happy you decided to stop at my little area.

This superhighway can make your cooking fun and innovative.  You can explore historical cooking in your own kitchen, using modern tools and techniques.  Sometimes it will turn out and sometimes it won't -- that is part of the fun!  (Just don't experiment on company unless you know they are very forgiving.)  Look for ebooks and blogs to get started.

You may learn old techniques and flavor combinations that are new to you.  Before I started historical cooking I would have never combined pepper and cinnamon in a savory dish.  Or tried liquamen.  Or have known how much I like rose water, elderberry, or various non-standard herbs. 

I also explored other cultures and gained respect for their cooking.  Roman Empire food is astonishingly good and I have a newfound love for cumin because of it.  The recipes of medieval and Elizabethan England are so very different from modern food preferences that English people I have talked to were surprised at what was made.

All of this has contributed to my demonstration cooking, which is incredibly rewarding.  If that is what you want to do, go for it!  Just plan ahead for all of the equipment you might end up acquiring as it is somewhat addictive.

Let me leave you with a picture of an demonstration cook yard to whet your interest and wish you the best of years in 2018.  Goode Eating! -- Tracy

Friday, December 15, 2017

Scott H.'s Grandma's Molasses Cookies -- A Most Favorite Recipe

I reserve the last post of the year for one of my most favorite recipes.  This one came to me from a man I worked with on an archaeological dig in 2002.  Scott H. brought these to share one day and they have such a good, rich, spicy flavor that I asked him for the recipe.  He told me they reminded him of all the times he spent with his grandmother.

Scott H.'s Grandma's Molasses Cookies

6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not dark)
1 egg
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
additional sugar in which to roll the balls

Preheat over to 375 degrees F.

Melt butter and shortening together.  Cool.

Add sugar, molasses, and egg -- beat well.

Sift all dry ingredients together and then add slowly to the liquid ingredients.  Mix well.

Chill the dough until firm -- about one hour.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls.  Roll the balls in sugar to coat evenly.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes.

Cool slightly in pan and then remove to a rack.  

Makes about 3 dozen cookies that are great to dunk in milk!

My Notes

I took this picture of the butter and shortening melting together because I thought they made a pretty pattern.

When I think of dark molasses, I think of black strap molasses, which is very strong in flavor.  The molasses I use here might look dark but it is not too strong.  This is the step where all the liquid ingredients are mixed.

Sometimes I make these cookies into balls.  When they bake they spread enough to come out round and look very professional.  But I also like to roll the dough into a log, chill it, and then slice off the dough and bake it.  It is faster but still tastes good.  You get the added bonus of being able to make the logs in advance, freeze them, and then make the cookies when you need them. 

I slice them to about 1/4 inch thick.  They spread a little so I give them room in the pan.  Instead of rolling them in sugar, I sprinkle them.  This time I used a cinnamon sugar mix.

Sliced, sprinkled, and ready to bake! 
The challenge is always getting the timing right for baking.  My notes in my cookbook include times for various pans and ovens I have had.  This is the first time I have baked these cookies in my new oven, so I was feeling cautious.  I baked the first batch for 9 minutes.

They came out over-baked:  too brown and dry.  They still tasted good but I like them softer.  So the second batch baked for 7 minutes and I like them much better.

7 minutes on the left, 9 minutes on the right.
I think the flavor is better and, of course, they are softer.

The third batch also baked for 7 minutes but I didn't sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar just for comparison.  This is the plateful I took to a party.  They were well received.

Unsprinkled on the very top.

The Verdict

Success, of course!  These are wonderful cookies.  They are perfect for the Christmas holidays, with all their spices and rich molasses flavors.  They are sweet but not too sweet.  In the past I have put a light, powdered sugar glaze on them after they came out of the oven.  Sometimes I use water and powdered sugar and sometimes I use lemon juice instead of water.  Either way, they are a good accompaniment and remind me of the cookies my grandmother used to give me when I was little.

I hope you enjoy them for their simplicity in making, their convenient storage, and their lovely flavor.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Honey Balls -- A Ladies' Group Christmas Cookie

In the early 1980s, a friend gave me this book:

Well loved, and published in 1971
My Internet searches tell me that "The Open Line" was a radio show in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri.  Jim Loyd was the host and listeners would send in their recipes.  From that, the radio station published bulletins and, later, cookbooks containing those recipes:
The first Open Line Cookbook, "The Best of the Open Line", was offered in 1969 and included Open Line recipes collected over the first six years of a daily radio telephone program on WMT Radio called "The Open Line", first airing in 1963.  From the very beginning, recipes and questions and answers on cooking dominated the whole hour, indicating the popularity of favorite family recipes passed along for others to share and enjoy.  In the first cookbook, reluctantly, some recipes had to be passed by because a 250 page cookbook will only accommodate so many recipes.  A second cookbook called "The Rest of the Best of the Open Line" was offered in 1971, including some of the omitted recipes and new recipes received in the two years between the first and second cookbooks.  (Source:
You can find some of their bulletins here:  It is an old website, at least it looks that way from the formatting.  If you explore more of their links, you can find the cookbook I used for this recipe here.

The reason I categorize the recipe under "Ladies' Groups" is this quote from the back page of this book:
Open Line recipes have a special something in common.  They are all a favorite in somebody's family, and are offered in the hope that someone else will share the joy of discovering a way to please their own cookie eaters...
Many of them could have become forgotten recipes, the pride of a past generation.  Passing them along now will perhaps keep them alive and busy, to be enjoyed by generations to come, that remember how good Grandmother's Christmas baking always was, and now can be again in the floured hands of today's Mothers, and tomorrow's Grandmothers.
To me, these are the same thoughts and motivations the Ladies' Groups have for publishing their recipes.  The only difference is that these recipes don't have a name and location attributed to them.  In a way, that makes me sad.

So here is to all the ladies (and gentlemen) who contributed recipes to Mr. Loyd's show and thus to his books.  You are unnamed but your recipes are not forgotten!

Honey Balls
(page 43)

1 cup shortening
1/4 cup honey
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts

And powdered sugar!
Cream shortening, add honey and cream well.  Add dry ingredients, then vanilla and chopped nuts.  Roll in balls the size of hickory nuts and bake on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in a 300 degree (F) oven.  While hot, roll in powdered sugar.  Roll in powdered sugar again when cool.

My Notes

Notice these don't use eggs or any sort of leavening!  I suspect it is either an old recipe or was created during a World War when foods were rationed.

I chose a dark honey for a rich flavor.  I used almonds which I chopped and lightly toasted.

After the shortening was beaten well all by itself, I added the honey and beat it some more.  It was definitely creamed well!

The dough came together easily and wasn't sticky at all.  Then I chilled it for about 20 minutes while the oven heated and I ate lunch.

I had to look up the approximate size of hickory nuts and settled on about 1 inch diameter.  When I placed them on the cookie sheet, I wasn't sure if they would spread or not.  Sure, the recipe says they are "balls" but with all that shortening I wondered if they would spread.  So I spaced them widely apart.  The rest of the dough went back into the refrigerator.

Being cautious
The recipe called for baking them for 30 to 40 minutes and my oven tends to cook things quickly, so I chose 30 minutes.  They smelled heavenly while they were baking!  You can see they didn't spread at all.

Room to play
I rolled them in powdered sugar when they were right out of the oven.  I was surprised at how much sugar stuck to them.  In some areas, it was thick.

It was time for the second batch.  I spaced them closer together.  In taste testing the first batch, I thought they were cooked too much.  They weren't burnt but I wanted them to be softer.  So I cooked the second batch for 25 minutes.

Batch #2, closer and cooked 5 min. less
So much sugar stuck to both batches from the first roll that I wondered why I should roll them twice.  I tried four of them and noticed that they were prettier after the second roll.

The twice rolled four are in the upper right corner.
The Verdict

Several of us tested them.  We found that the honey flavor was detected after we had been chewing the cookie for a little while.  It wasn't dominant but it was there.  Mostly I tasted the nuts.

The first batch was good but a bit too dry for my tastes.  The second batch, cooked five minutes less, were better but I still think they should be cooked for only 15 to 20 minutes in my oven. 

They were good cookies!  Nutty, very slightly sweet, crunchy.  The second roll in the powdered sugar only enhanced the look and did not make the cookies any sweeter.  I think people who normally don't like sweet cookies would like these.  I also think they would go well with coffee or tea. 

Now that I know they don't spread when cooked, I would put the entire batch on one cookie sheet if I could. 

Success!  A handy cookie any time of year.  I suspect the dough would freeze well -- and maybe would be good to shape into a log and sliced.  Then the cookies would bake very quickly.  It is worth a try some day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Arabian Lamb Cakes - Maqlūa al-shiwā

I was recently able to do some demonstration cooking and this is a recipe I picked out as part of my repertoire.  However I never got around to it!  The ingredients all came home with me and I decided to make it for this blog.

It is originally out of one of my favorite books, Pleyn Delit, which makes it medieval.

ISBN 0-8020-7632-7
There was a lot of Arabic influence in the foods of this time.  The lamb cakes stand out as Arabic primarily because of the use of lamb, mint, nuts, and the spices combination.  This is recipe #5 in the book.

Arabian Lamb Cakes - Maqlūa al-shiwā

Original recipe

Take cold roast, and cut up fine with a knife, adding the usual seasonings, together with walnuts:  then proceed as for maqlūba, with eggs.  If desired sour, sprinkled with a little lemon juice.

Redacted version

1 1/2 cup pieces of cold roast lamb
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp each ground cumin, cinnamon, pepper
2 tsp chopped fresh mint
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
olive oil for frying
juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix ingredients (not oil or lemon) and form small cakes.  Fry in oil, turning over once.  Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving hot.

My Notes

My lamb was purchased ground.  I cooked and drained it before using it (it was cold when I packed it to take to the demonstration).

I chopped the walnuts well, so no one would get a big chunk of nut in their lamb cake bite.

An original sized piece included for comparison.

First I mixed the meat, nuts, and all the seasonings together well.  Then I beat the egg before adding it to the mixture.


Post-egg.  It looks moister.

I preheated the pan and the oil.  The first spoonful of the mixture was squeezed in my hand and set into the pan.  It immediately crumbled!

Definitely not a cake.

I decided the mixture was too dry so I added another beaten egg.  Now it looked very moist.

Downright soggy now.  The particles cling better, too.

I tried making the little cake shapes again.  I was very gentle in squeezing the mixture, in placing the cakes on the pan, and in turning them over once.

Cooking on the first side.

Cooking after turning.

Despite all that gentleness, nearly half of the cakes crumbled before being put on the serving platter.  Very disappointing!

I piled the whole cakes mostly on one side of the platter and the broken bits on the other.  Everything got a sprinkling of lemon juice.  I garnished the dish with two more pieces of lemon and a sprig of mint.

The Verdict

I served them with the Sweet-and-Sour Olives and some tortilla chips for crunch.

The chips were shy and avoided the photograph.
The lamb cakes that were whole were easy to pick up and eat but you realized quickly that they had to be handled gently or they would break apart.

The flavor was good:  mostly the lamb came through and the spices were very subtle.  I wanted more of a kick from the mint.  The nuts seemed slightly toasted from the cooking, which I liked.  The cakes weren't oily, which I appreciated.  The lemon juice is a necessary ingredient to add some sparkle to a somewhat bland dish.

So success on the flavor, although I wanted more of a dance on my taste buds.

As a finger food, it was a failure.  The cakes weren't robust enough to be finger food at all.  I ended up eating most of the cooked meat mixture with a spoon.

I suspect that the addition of some dried bread crumbs would help with that.  Perhaps if I make it another time, especially as a demonstration recipe, I would add some.

Side note:  the liquid that the olives came in was also very good on the lamb cakes!